Allez Bakery says “go” on growth

A YouTube search of “why U.S. bread is inferior” yields many videos about the ultra-processed nature of bread loaves commonly found on supermarket store shelves. The abundance of pesticide residues, preservatives and dough conditioners render loaves that are a far cry from what our grandparents ate. Does reading calcium propionate and mono- and diglycerides on ingredient listings conjure yearning for breads our ancestors used to bake?

Thankfully, food purveyors, particularly independent bakers, reside on the tip of the spear resisting the ubiquity of U.S. mass-produced monoculture by presenting artisanal authenticity with their products. Allez Bakery, which opened a small shop on Main St. in 2017 and a full-service café in February, has filled a significant portion of the Queen City’s demand for quality baked goods. Through several revenue streams – in-store, wholesale to several noted local eateries, and a booth at the high-traffic Hyde Park Farmers’ Market – Allez founder Tom McKenna has the business well positioned to grow.

Prior to opening Allez, McKenna, an SCPA graduate who ventured north to New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt., returned to Cincinnati and honed his craft at Slim’s, an erstwhile Northside farm-to-table restaurant, Blue Oven Bakery, and Dutch’s Larder before making the leap to launch his own venture in Over-the-Rhine. An avid cyclist, he gleaned the name from the universal shout of encouragement from Tour de France spectators to persevere on the grueling course.

“Improving my quality of life was definitely a motivator in starting my own business,” he said. “A lot of bakers work a schedule of going to work in the middle of the night. I had a one-year-old, who’s now nine, and I didn’t want to be an absent father. I grew Allez with the continuing priority of supporting a balanced quality of life for the team. We’ve grown to 21 employees, and take everyone into account.”

Allez’s reputation has grown, and the company has built a vigorous walk-in business. Its multigrain sourdough and seeded sourdough are highly recommended, but there are no bad or even mediocre choices. Allez wholesale customers include a who’s who of venerated local eateries: Thunderdome Restaurant Group, which includes Pepp & Dolores, The Eagle, and Bakersfield, Jose Salazar’s restaurants, and Sleepy Bee. All told, Allez bakes approximately 700 lbs. of dough weekly.

“Our seasonal and rotating product choices aren’t as regimented as some might think,” Tom said. “Many of them are personal passion projects. I love posole, and our jalapeno and hominy bread reflect Mexican spices and flavors.”

Another niche product popular to a passionate few is Allez’s Volkenbrot, Dutch for “bread of the people,” a European-style rye bread with a denser texture and unique flavor that will be a pleasant surprise to those accustomed to garden-variety Jewish or dark rye loaves. Its fandom is limited – Allez makes just 20 loaves for Friday and Saturday, but they sell out quickly. This was a lesson learned from yours truly who tried to buy a loaf on Friday afternoon but was turned away.

Allez first dipped its toe into seasonal-market sales as a guest vendor at the Hyde Park Farmers’ Market, and decided the favorable reception justified creating a full-time presence starting two years ago. Its market stall leans a bit more into its individual pastries, such as biscuits, scones, and hand pies that are more user-friendly to strolling, bag-wielding market patrons.

“With a Main Street storefront (now two of them), that’s a substantial investment, so we have to be strategic about other sales avenues,” Tom said. “With the recently opened café, we want to raise awareness. Also, the Farmers’ Market provides a good opportunity to trade our goods with fruit and vegetable vendors looking to expedite product at the end of the day.”

Steve AustOpened this past February, the Allez Café has enjoyed consistently brisk business serving its signature pastries, sandwiches, soups, and beverages.

Supporting fellow local vendors is a company priority. It buys its apples and stone fruits that go into its loaves and pastries from a regional Amish farm or Pipkin’s Market in Blue Ash.

During the COVID-19 onset, Allez’s operation as a mercantile, rather than a restaurant, enabled it to maintain operation by diversifying baking equipment to roast chickens and other meats. They partnered with Pleasantries, a former OTR restaurant, to offer complete meals to healthcare professionals, first responders and other frontline workers.

“We didn’t lay off a single employee,” Tom said. “We did what we had to get the job done.”

Broadening its menu proved to be good preparation for opening its café, which offers sandwiches, soups, and salads that complement excellent bread. Tom credits Allez’s continued growth to remaining committed to teamwork.

“When I’m at the café, I’m just another guy on the line,” Tom said. “In foodservice, you have to leave your ego at the door.”

Bakers with farmers’ market stalls

Allez Bakery and Café
1201 and 1208 Main St., OTR
Markets: Hyde Park Farmers’ Market (Sundays 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., May-October)

Baudry French Pastries
607 Shepherd Dr. #6, Wyoming
Markets: Hyde Park Farmers’ Market, Montgomery Farmers' Market (Saturdays noon-3 p.m., May-October)

Blue Oven Bakery
125 W. Elder St., OTR
Markets: Hyde Park Farmers’ Market, Loveland Farmers' Market (Tuesdays 3:30-6:30 p.m., May-October), Madeira Farmers' Market (Thursdays 4-7 p.m., May-October)

North South Baking Co.
39 W. Pike St, Covington, KY
Markets: Hyde Park Farmers’ Market
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Read more articles by Steve Aust.

Steve is a freelance writer and editor, father, and husband who enjoys cooking, exercise, travel, and reading. A native of Fort Thomas who spent his collegiate and early-adulthood years in Georgia, marriage brought him across the river, where he now resides in Oakley.